Since 16 February, the last edition of the Eye on ISIS in Libya report, major shifts in ISIS presence and impact in Libya have taken place, reducing the threat somewhat in Eastern Libya, while escalating it in Western Libya.
In Eastern Libya, ISIS lost its bastion of Al Lithi in Benghazi on 23 February. This occurred after the latest Libyan National Army (LNA) offensive on 20 February, which made a significant advance against the group and other allied extremist militias.
Despite the ISIS withdrawal from large areas in South Benghazi, including Lithi and of Sidi Faraj, fighters loyal to the group are still present in Hawari. Those fighters conducted a series of raids against LNA units and one suicide attack near the cement factory on 26 February. Both ISIS and Ansar Al Sharia claimed and inflated the attack.
ISIS fighters are also present in Sabri and Soug Al Hout, adjacent to Benghazi’s port, where clashes with LNA units are ongoing. The area is said to be facing a sanitation crisis and possible epidemic due to the large scale of death and destruction. The area is also littered with mines and other unexploded IED’s.
After the LNA’s ‘Operation Martyr’s Blood’ successfully pushed the loose coalition of extremist militias (including ISIS) west of Benghazi, clashes have intensified on this front, mainly in Guwarsha and Ganfuda. ISIS published videos of its battles in this area as well, showing ISIS fighters targeting LNA soldiers with mortars in Nuwagiya, west of Benghazi.
In Derna, ISIS conducted a raid on 17 February, attempting to gain ground in the city. The local Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council (DMSC), working alongside the LNA’s Omar Al Mukhtar Brigade, successfully repelled the attack. Fifteen ISIS members were reportedly killed in the fighting, which ISIS dubbed Naser Al Ansari Battle, and 12 other fighters from the local jihadi coalition also died. ISIS also released video footage of their attack.
In the West, Sabratha has become the latest focal point for ISIS in Libya. On 24 February, ISIS briefly occupied the security headquarters and main square inside the city, before being driven out early in the morning. After hours of intensive fighting, and apparent negotiations with ISIS militants to withdraw, local forces regained control over the city, only to find 19 Sabrathans had been killed. Since this engagement, local militias and fighters from other towns have been standing guard in Sabratha. (This will be discussed in the Local Anti–ISIS Coalition section).
In Sirte, ISIS continues to consolidate its forces in anticipation of international airstrikes and LNA ground attacks from the East, or Misratan militias from the West. ISIS also produced a new video, showing its Zakat (Islamic taxation) process in Sirte, to market itself to new recruits and other potential supporters of the militant group. This has followed a similar Zakat marketing campaign in Benghazi.